Buddhism Is More ‘Western’ Than You Think

#1
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/06/opini...sophy.html

EXCERPT: Not long ago I was accused of something I hadn’t realized was a bad thing: clarity. Adam Gopnik, reviewing my book “Why Buddhism Is True,” in The New Yorker in August, wrote: “He makes Buddhist ideas and their history clear. Perhaps he makes the ideas too clear.”

Underlying this allegation (which I vigorously deny!) is a common view: that Buddhist ideas defy clear articulation — and that in a sense the point of Buddhist ideas is to defy clear articulation. After all, aren’t those Zen koans — “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and so on — supposed to suggest that language, and the linear thought it embodies, can’t capture the truth about reality?

Gopnik seems to think that this drift of Buddhist thought — its apparent emphasis on the inscrutability of things — largely insulates it from scrutiny. Buddhist discourse that acknowledges, even embraces, paradox may “hold profound existential truths,” Gopnik says, but by the same token it has, as a kind of built-in property, an “all-purpose evasion of analysis.” So apparently people like me, who would like to evaluate Buddhist ideas in the light of modern science and philosophy, should save our breath.

The question Gopnik is raising isn’t just an academic one. Every day, millions of people practice mindfulness meditation — they sit down, focus on their breath, and calm their minds. But the point of mindfulness meditation isn’t just to calm you down. Rather, the idea — as explained in ancient Buddhist texts — is that a calm, contemplative mind can help you see the world as it really is. It would be nice to critically examine this powerful claim, but if we can’t say clearly what Buddhists mean by “the world as it really is,” then how can we examine it? How can we figure out — or even argue about — whether meditation is indeed drawing people closer to the truth about reality?

The cultural critic Edward Said famously used the term “orientalism” to refer to a patronizing way Westerners sometimes think of Eastern cultures and ideas — as charmingly exotic, perhaps, but as deficient in various Western virtues, including rationality and rigor. Said was talking mainly about Middle Eastern cultures, but much the same could be said of Buddhism: Western thinkers may cherish its art and its cryptic aphorisms, and may see meditation as therapeutically useful, but many of them don’t imagine Buddhist thought playing in the same league as Western thought; they don’t imagine a Buddhist philosophy that involves coherent conceptual structures that can be exposed to evidence and logic and then stand or fall on their merits.

This condescension is unfounded...

MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/06/opini...sophy.html
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#2
This looks like one of those odd 'New York' style pseudo intellectual things.

(Nov 12, 2017 01:36 AM)C C Wrote: EXCERPT: Not long ago I was accused of something I hadn’t realized was a bad thing: clarity. Adam Gopnik, reviewing my book “Why Buddhism Is True,” in The New Yorker in August, wrote: “He makes Buddhist ideas and their history clear. Perhaps he makes the ideas too clear.”

Who is Adam Gopnik? Wikipedia makes him sound like one of these New York high-brow magazine contributors. His background seems to be in the arts. So what has he got to do with Buddhism?

Quote:Underlying this allegation (which I vigorously deny!) is a common view: that Buddhist ideas defy clear articulation — and that in a sense the point of Buddhist ideas is to defy clear articulation. After all, aren’t those Zen koans — “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and so on — supposed to suggest that language, and the linear thought it embodies, can’t capture the truth about reality?

I think that Zen in particular leans that way. Especially in how it's often taught to beginners in the West. It definitely tends towards anti-intellectualism.

Quote:Gopnik seems to think that this drift of Buddhist thought — its apparent emphasis on the inscrutability of things — largely insulates it from scrutiny. Buddhist discourse that acknowledges, even embraces, paradox may “hold profound existential truths,” Gopnik says, but by the same token it has, as a kind of built-in property, an “all-purpose evasion of analysis.” So apparently people like me, who would like to evaluate Buddhist ideas in the light of modern science and philosophy, should save our breath.

There's lots of aspects to Buddhism. There's Buddhism as ethical practice, as merit-making. That's the kind of Buddhism that most lay Buddhists in Asia practice. There's Buddhism as meditation practice, which is the kind of Buddhism practiced by many (not all) monastics and (less traditionally) by lay Buddhists in the West. And there's Buddhism as philosophy, which was very prominent in the monastic universities of India (like Nalanda) until they were destroyed around the 1100's by the Muslims, and in the monasteries of Tibet where the Buddhist philosophical tradition took refuge until they too were destroyed in the 1960's, this time by the Chinese communists.

The Buddhist philosophical tradition struggles on today in the Tibetan diaspora and among the academics (often Western) who have taken it up. My point is that Buddhist philosophy has always existed, back to the early schools and even to the Buddha's discourses themselves. 'Right view' is the the first component of the 'Eightfold Path', after all.  

Quote:The question Gopnik is raising isn’t just an academic one. Every day, millions of people practice mindfulness meditation — they sit down, focus on their breath, and calm their minds. But the point of mindfulness meditation isn’t just to calm you down. Rather, the idea — as explained in ancient Buddhist texts — is that a calm, contemplative mind can help you see the world as it really is. It would be nice to critically examine this powerful claim, but if we can’t say clearly what Buddhists mean by “the world as it really is,” then how can we examine it? How can we figure out — or even argue about — whether meditation is indeed drawing people closer to the truth about reality?

I think that the Buddha himself would have agreed with that, judging from the discourses preserved in the Pali canon. There was always a metaphysical aspect to Buddhism, though it is mixed together with psychology, epistemology, phenomenology and spiritual pragmatics in ways that are often confusing and disconcerting to modern Western philosophers whose categories are clearer and more distinct.

Here's an example illustrating how the ancient Indian Buddhist philosophical tradition is still practiced today, after it fled to Tibet to escape the Muslim occupiers of India, then fled back to India to escape the Chinese communist occupiers of Tibet.

http://www.drepunggomang.org/curriculum

http://www.drepunggomang.org/curriculum/...al-classes
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#3
Quote:After all, aren’t those Zen koans — “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and so on — supposed to suggest that language, and the linear thought it embodies, can’t capture the truth about reality?

No, they aren't. The more seemingly inscrutable ones seek to draw the person's attention to sunyata (nothingness). The sound of one hand clapping is an expectation, or potential, for another hand. This illustrates an important characteristic of nothingness.
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